The Imitation Temptation

Here’s a typical publishing news item, this one from www.comicbookresources.com posted on February 18, 2007:

“Thomas Nelson Incorporated and Realbuzz Studios would like to announce an exclusive multi-year contract to release a minimum of 26 manga titles, immediately making Thomas Nelson the market leader of faith-based manga content. ”

Regularly we hear about a publisher employing a new marketing strategy, a new way of handling fulfillment, a new internal structure or a new line of books. Whenever someone in publishing hears something like this, the temptation is to say, “Oh, we ought to do that too.” There are several reasons to resist such urges.

The first reason comes from my publishing mentor, Jim Sire, who would say, “Just because someone is doing something doesn’t mean they are succeeding.” We shouldn’t blindly imitate others because they may be losing money on the project no matter how attractive it could look from the outside. With a new line of books (or even a particular title), development costs, production costs or marketing costs could very well outstrip even substantial sales.

Second, don’t be in a hurry to enter what could become (or already is) a crowded field. If everyone is doing children’s books, and even if (or especially if) everyone is succeeding at children’s books, that could mean you should stay out. The competition could be just too much to overcome. Instead, follow a counter-intuitive approach of going where others aren’t. (For more on this see Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.)

Third, does a new process, procedure, structure or type of book that some other publisher is doing fit your publishing house? Is it consistent with your values, ethos and history? If not, be very cautious about moving forward. Obviously, there are times when breaking with the past is needed. But it should be done sparingly and with as much continuity with the past as possible.

The cliché says that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But sometimes imitation can be the lowest form of strategy. Imitation may flatter someone else rather than flatter your company.

One response to “The Imitation Temptation”

  1. Good points. And, more broadly, one wonders if perhaps we should focus our energies more on creating culture rather than copying the already existing culture and Christianizing it. Easier said than done, of course. Andy Crouch, we need you now. . .